Do’s and Don’ts of Supply Chain International Business Etiquette

For anyone who has attended a meeting with a vendor from China, I’m sure you’ve noticed, and hopefully you’ve reciprocated, that business cards are given and received with some ceremony, using both hands to give and accept.  A card isn’t merely a card in the Chinese culture; it’s a piece of the person to be received and reviewed.  In the UK or US, however, business cards are seemingly treated more like trading cards.  In many countries, you should always accept an offer of coffee or tea.  It is considered impolite to refuse.  And when greeting a group, in many cultures it is proper to greet the eldest or the most senior ranking person in the group first.  These are just the cultural norms.

Some of us who are lucky enough to work in international trade actually sought out these positions because we are fascinated by other cultures and traditions like these.  We want to be a part of the global enterprise machine.  With this in mind, we wanted to share some fun facts about other business cultures from some of our main trading partners around the world:

Hong Kong/China
  • When conducting business over a meal, be prepared to eat (and drink) as much as the host.
  • Do not be surprised if people ask many personal questions- age, marital status, children, etc.
Pakistan
  • In general, Pakistanis have an open-door policy, even when in a meeting. This means there may be frequent interruptions. Other people may wander into the room and start a different discussion.
  • Business meetings start after prolonged inquiries about health, family, etc.
  • Never inquire about a colleague’s wife or daughters.
France
  • In France, the safeguarding of personal privacy is very important.
  • The French attach great importance to style and fashion; elegance is therefore always admired.
  • Do not use the “okay” sign (a circle made with the index finger and the thumb), it’s considered as “zero” or “worthless.”
Germany
  • Small talk is usually kept for after business hours.
  • During meetings, German managers follow the agenda rigorously; the goal of almost every meeting is to achieve results and not to have/start general discussion.
  • Display of affection in public is not common, especially not in a business environment.
Italy
  • Italians, like most of the people of Southern Europe, are focused on relationships. They usually prefer to establish an informal/friendly relationship before getting down to business.
  • Italians attach importance to verbal commitments and the final contract can be based on past informal agreements.
  • Handshakes are common, should be firm but not too long. In the case of a friendly relationship, a kiss on both cheeks is common as well.
Norway
  • When presenting oneself, be sure not to appear too over confident or self-promoting. A cornerstone of Norwegian culture is egalitarianism, embodied in what is called “Jante’s Law.” Jante’s Law teaches people to be modest and humble. This is seen through most people’s refusal to criticize others and an awareness not to flaunt their wealth or financial achievements.
Turkey
  • They like to be close when they speak; stepping back can be considered impolite.
  • The first meetings are usually formal. But, small talks are welcome at the beginning of a meeting.
  • The negotiation process may take longer than usual and several meetings may take place before a decision is made. The Turkish businessmen don’t like to feel pressured or rushed. Therefore, any attempt to accelerate the process will only produce negative results.
  • Turkish businessmen like to work with people they can trust, people they feel comfortable working with and that can guarantee them a long-term relationship. If they feel that you are hiding something, you’ll probably be rejected.
Latin America
  • “Personal spaces” in the American sense are not regularly recognized.  Touching during communicating is acceptable, especially when first greeting and saying good bye.
  • “My Grandfather always told me to embrace with both hands when shaking, one shaking, and the other either on the back of the hand or on the elbow or forearm depending on what they do, a delicate “dance.” Look the person dead in the eyes when shaking on business, I can see how this would make someone in the US uncomfortable.” (Carlos P., Pricing Analyst, Shapiro)
  • Relationship/trust is important; first topics to be covered should always be family, sports, etc.
  • Pointing with your finger at someone is considered very rude.
  • Discussing business immediately or bringing it up if you are not the host is considered rude.
Brazil
  • Business life in northern Brazil is much more laid back than in southern Brazil.  In the North, it can take months to finalize a deal.  In the south, German roots are much more prevalent.
  • Business frequently gets closed over lunch or dinner. It’s usual to invite a customer for a lunch or dinner.
  • Customers and partners appreciate it if you bring a gift from your country.
  • Knowing a few sentences in Portuguese can win the customer as well.  They will see your efforts and can take this into consideration when closing a business.
Russia
  • It is considered rude to stand with your hands in your pockets.

Special thanks to our Global Flex Network vendors who contributed to this article.  Also note, some elements were sourced from businessculture.org.

-- Angela Czajkowski
Director, Supply Chain